Common Plumbing Issues – And How to Fix Them
Plumbing issues can be a real pain in the neck, and also a pain in your wallet. Sometimes the plumbing problems that we deal with are easier to solve then expected, you just have to know the trick.
Guelph plumber Wil Boardman discusses the most common plumbing problems, and how to fix them.
Below are some of the most common plumbing problems and solutions:
Low Shower Head Pressure
Time for an invigorating shower? Great! Until, of course, you get in the shower and find it’s not so invigorating and a bit more like a sad trickle. Well, low water pressure from a shower head is actually a pretty common issue that comes up with household maintenance.
There are a lot of possible culprits for this problem. Some are fairly easy to diagnose and fix, and won’t require a call to a plumber. Others are a little more involved.
Here are some pointers:
If you’re living in an area with hard water and you don’t have a water softener, one downside is that calcification can build up in a shower head and other fixtures.
That calcification can lead to a number of problems, including low pressure in the shower head or faucet.
One DIY solution is to try soaking the shower head with vinegar or CLR. (In fact, from a preventive maintenance standpoint, occasional soaking in vinegar for things like shower heads is a good idea and is a very simple and eco-friendly way to remove the build-up that is par for the course in hard water homes.)
In the best case scenario, vinegar does the trick and suddenly water pressure from your shower head is back to normal. Or… not.
If such basic steps don’t yield positive results, it’s time to look deeper. There could be another blockage of some sort in the shower head, or a cartridge that needs to be replaced.
If it’s clear to you that trying something as simple as vinegar is getting you nowhere, it’s best to call in a plumber who can diagnose the problem and recommend a solution to get your shower head pressure back up to par.
Causes of Leaking Toilet
If you live for a reasonably long time in a home, you are almost bound to have a leaky toilet at some point. It’s a very common plumbing service request, but let’s face it… a leaking toilet is a pretty big inconvenience especially if – like me – you’ve only got one bathroom in your home!
Some of the more common reasons for leaky toilets include:
The Gasket has Aged. Everything has a shelf life, including the gasket upon which a toilet is placed. Gaskets are typically made of wax or foam, and yes over time they can deteriorate and that can lead to leaks.
The Bowl or the Tank is Cracked. Porcelain doesn’t deteriorate easily, but it can happen. If your toilet’s tank or bowl has a crack running through it, do not delay on the repairs. This kind of damage may start like a trickle but it can escalate very quick and, suddenly, you have a lot of damage as a result.
Pipe that Has Deteriorated. Sometimes it looks as though a toilet is leaking but in actuality there is a pipe near or adjacent to the fixture that is the culprit.
Lastly, a note to the DIYers out there. Please don’t silicone the base of your toilet.
Yes, sometimes there can be a small gap between your toilet and your flooring, especially if you have not hired a plumber to handle the installation. However, caulking that gap is a mistake.
By doing so, you complicate the otherwise relatively simple task of noticing when there is a leak. The caulking at the base of the toilet traps water in. The first indication that there’s a problem will likely be when the ceiling below the toilet starts to bubble from water damage.
By then, what started out as a small repair has escalated into something more serious and costly.
If you are dead set on putting silicone around the base of your toilet, make sure to lead a gap of a few inches at the back. This will at least allow you to spot leaks should they occur.
Frozen Water Pipes
Pipes freezing and bursting happens every year and this is no exception. The temperature drops at some point in the winter for a few days (or longer) and we start getting calls about frozen pipes.
Frozen or burst pipes can certainly happen when we have extreme cold, and particularly in cases where either:
1) Plumbing has not been done to Code (i.e. water lines on an exterior wall that don’t have a means of preventing freezing),
2) A resident has left their home for an extended period of time and during that time the temperature has dropped.
Once you have frozen pipes, here are some options for thawing them:
Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt ice in the pipe quicker.
Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (carefully kept a distance from flammable materials), or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device.
Keep applying heat until full water pressure is restored. Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may freeze, too.
If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you can not thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.
If you need supplemental heat, you can add a space heater to a room where pipes may be at risk, or have had previous incidents.
Insulating your home to current standards is always a good move as it will lessen heating and cooling bills, help prevent frozen pipes, and increase comfort in the home all year round.
In terms of preventive maintenance, if you are going to be away from the home for several days in extremely cold weather, ask someone to check in on your home on a daily basis.
You can also consider leaving certain taps (i.e. those with lines prone to freezing) open a small amount – just enough to let a drip in. Rather than waste the water you collect, set it aside for cooking or other use the next day.
Preventing Frozen Pipes
Every winter, plumbers will be busy during cold snaps. That’s because when the temperature plummets, the risk of pipes freezing goes up.
In fact, frozen pipes are one of the most common causes of property damage during frigid weather and can cause thousands in water damage. Being prepared beforehand can help you avoid any incidents.
Here are some tips on how to avoid frozen pipes during these cold winter snaps:
Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. (Note: If you have small children, be sure to remove harmful household cleaners before doing this.)
Let the cold water drip from a faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe—even at a trickle—helps prevent pipes from freezing.
Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature during the day and at night.
If you plan to be away during extremely cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 13C or 55F.
For the long term, add insulation to attics, basements, and crawl spaces. Doing so will maintain higher temperatures in those areas.
You can also wrap accessible pipes with insulation, both hot and cold. If this isn’t within your skill set, call a plumber. We have plenty of resources to get the job done right.
Shower Handle is Hard to Move
What does it mean when your shower handle becomes hard to move?
Well, it could be a few things but, certainly, general wear and tear takes its toll on everything in life – including plumbing fixtures. So, things like the shower faucet cartridge or the valve may need to be replaced in time.
In the case of something as potentially complicated as a shower valve malfunctioning, it’s a good idea to call upon the services of a licensed plumber.
In other cases, the cause and therefore the solution might be considerably more simple. As an example, a build up of lime or calcium could be part of the culprit and in some cases. Often, simply disassembling the plumbing fixture and removing that build-up (using something like vinegar or another substance if that doesn’t do the trick,) is all that is required.
Regardless, don’t leave something like this too long. Shower handles can go from ‘hard to move’ to ‘just plain no longer working’ in no time.
Warning Signs of Plumbing Problems
Without a doubt, it’s a pain when plumbing problems strike. Often, people feel that a plumbing issue has occurred out of the blue, but more likely there was some warning that went unnoticed or that was just left too long.
Toilets running, slow drains, and so forth can all be a signal of a problem brewing, and it’s best to contact a plumber before these minor annoyances turn into serious issues.
Here are some things that could be signs of possible plumbing issues on the horizon:
Clogged Toilets and Drains: These plumbing issues can usually be prevented by regular drain cleaning. However, if a toilet or drain causes continual problems, or if a drain runs slowly for an extended period of time, it should be checked out because something could be obstructing the drain or the vent.
Sputtering Faucets: You might think these noises are just the sound of air in the pipes. While this may be the case, if it happens a lot, or if multiple faucets are sputtering, this could indicate that there’s a cracked or broken water line somewhere in your home.
Basement Pipes Dripping: This could simply be condensation, or it could be a leak, so it needs to be monitored. If more than a few drips occur in an hour, it should be checked by a licensed plumber. Also, consider running a dehumidifier to help with moisture control.
Water Heaters: There are many problems associated with water heaters. Some common ones include smelly water, no hot water, rust coloured water, strange noises, or leaking. These should be addressed right away so you’re not showering in the cold.
Remember, the plumbing system in your home is a complex network of components that are connected together in ways that only licensed plumbers understand. That’s why, basic maintenance aside, it’s best to leave problems in the hands of experienced plumbing professionals.
About Wil Boardman
Wil is a licensed and insured plumber who lives and works in Guelph, Ontario. His experience includes service and repair work for residential, commercial, and industrial plumbing projects. With over 9,000 hours of plumbing service and water treatment experience under his belt, and a desire to venture out on his own, Wil launched his own business in the fall of 2014.